What every best space heater has
The right heat for the job. In most cases, the best heater will be one that heats up fast and distributes the heat quickly, using a fan, such as a ceramic space heater or a forced air heater. Oil-filled radiators take a different approach; they are slow to warm and most lack a fan, but they retain their heat long after they are turned off making them a good choice for sleeping areas (where normally having an operating space heater is not advisable, experts say). Micathermic space heaters are radiators, too, and their construction lets them be placed flush on a wall or flat against one; they aren't popular with experts, but lots of users have nice things to say about them. Infrared heaters are best for quick heat, and many include a fan so they can cover a large space. However we recommend you ignore some manufacturer claims and keep expectations reasonable.
- Easy-to-use temperature settings. Nearly all owners agree they need some control over heat output; the best heaters give you the option to set either a specific temperature (i.e. in degrees Fahrenheit) or a relative temperature (i.e. high, medium, low), which helps save energy.
- Safety features: Most experts agree that the best space heaters include adequate safety features. Tip-over sensors are advisable, and an overheat cut-off is essential. Other things to look for in a space heater are a case that stays cool to the touch; heat exhausts that don't become excessively hot; and nice, tight grills that keep the curious fingers of little ones away from heated elements.
Know before you go
Will a space heater work for you? In reading user reviews, one of the most-often cited disappointments is that one space heater or another failed to heat a space adequately. However, that's often the result of unrealistic expectations -- or inflated marketing claims -- rather than a failure of the appliance. Space heaters are designed for spot heating or supplemental heating for a small to standard-sized room. Seamus Bellamy at TheSweethome.com points out that the most powerful electric space heater that you can plug into a standard U.S. (110 volt) socket tops out at 1,500 watts, which is sufficient to heat up no more than a room of 150 square feet (10 by 15 feet) or less. A fan can help spread that heat out in that space faster and more completely, but can't help a space heater cover a larger area. Performance can also be affected by external factors such as inadequate insulation or drafty windows or doors. Most of the heaters covered in this report are rated at 1,500 watts, though some also have lower-power settings for smaller rooms.
Does noise matter to you? Reports indicate that most modern space heaters are very good or excellent when it comes to keeping noise-levels reasonable, and that includes models with the most powerful fans. Still, if you will be using the space heater in an area where quiet is important, look for models that have the best feedback regarding noise.
Do you need consistent heat? Many owners rely on a space heater to deliver consistent heat, oftentimes while sleeping at night. However, experts from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) strongly recommend that you never go to sleep with a space heater still operating. For bedrooms, that makes oil-filled radiator space heaters a better choice. They are slower to warm up than other types of space heaters, but they retain heat much longer -- hours after they are turned off. Models with timers that turn the heater on and off at preset intervals (such as in the morning or at bedtime) provide added convenience.
Do you care what the heater looks like? If a space heater is used only occasionally or in private areas of the home (or office), appearance might not matter much. For some, though, an unattractive heater isn't ideal. For aesthetes, design may be worth a higher price.